Top-10 Artificial Intelligence Startups in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a very special place in our hearts. It’s the safest place on the planet, with beautiful local people who are shy and endearing, who harbor a fondness for taking pictures of their food, who believe in ghosts, who despise “those uncouth mainlanders”, and who invent some strange cartoon characters – like McDull the pig and his friend Excreman that’s literally a turd that crawled out of the toilet. If you’re someone who noticeably speaks English, don’t expect the Hong Kong police to ticket you for jaywalking. They’re too shy about their English to approach you. Of course, these are the same people who won’t hesitate to tell you that you look fat when you return from holiday. Hong Kong has a fascinating culture, and it’s also a regional center for finance and commerce since the mid-1800s.
With an income tax rate that barely exceeds 10%, Hong Kong is a great place to work and do business, being consistently ranked as number one in the world market for economic freedom since 1995. While mainland China is becoming a world leader in AI startup development, major corporations looking for new innovators are setting their sights on Hong Kong. Alibaba and SenseTime, the second most funded AI startup in the world, partnered this past May to launch an AI innovation lab in Hong Kong with the aim of supporting startups in the fields of AI, biotech, and fintech. In this article, we’re going to look at Hong Kong’s top ten most funded AI startups based on some Crunchbase queries our research team performed. This is where things start to get a bit tricky.
According to Crunchbase, the two most funded AI companies in Hong Kong are Klook (a travel company) and Gshopper (a product recommendation engine). Klook is actually valued at $1 billion and can best be used as an “activity booking platform” that uses AI algorithms to provide the best recommendations. We’ve talked before about how using AI for recommendations is now a commodity, and pretty much mandatory for ecommerce companies that sell products directly to consumers. For that same reason, we’ve skipped over Gshopper, a startup that uses AI and big data to find the next hot products for ecommerce companies. The next ten Hong Kong AI startups we found are as follows.
Founded in 2015, Snapask has raised $21.8 million in funding to develop an app to connect students with university tutors for one-on-one coaching sessions. Students snap a picture of the problem in question, write a few words about where they need the help, and the platform’s algorithm connects them to the most appropriate tutor (typically a university student) in a few seconds. It’s crowdsourcing for tutoring in real-time. Snapask has more than 120,000 tutors screened using student IDs and exam certificates and offers them about $1 per answered question.
The company was founded by Timothy Yu, a former cram school teacher, who wanted to solve the problem of too many students in one class being spoon-fed solutions instead of doing real problem-solving. An article by The Nation talks about how AI is applied on the Snapask platform:
The exam coach feature utilizes data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to analyze each student’s weakness in a particular subject, consequently design and create personalized tests to deliver personalized learning and improve the learning process of each student.
The app now has 600,000 users and currently operates in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, and Japan. If all those users are paying the flat subscription fee of $80 per month (as opposed to just paying per question), that’s over half a billion dollars a year in run rate. The company plans to expand their presence to 25 countries over the next three years to provide personalized education for the masses.
Founded in 2013, Hanson Robotics has raised $21.7 million to build lifelike humanoid robots equipped with emotional abilities using AI. Founder David Hanson comes from the film industry and used to create robotic technologies for Disney theme parks after receiving his Ph.D. in aesthetic studies. Hanson rejects the idea that robots’ very close resemblance to humans will incite fear in the population, and wants to investigate our definition of “human” – similarly to the movie Ex Machina.
The Hanson Robotics team boasts an impressive list of research publications and inventions, and has recently come out with their most advanced robot yet called Sophia. Sophia is speaking at conferences, giving interviews, and is also the world’s first non-human United Nations Innovation Champion. The level of sophistication of Hanson’s robots will allow them to take part in most service-related industries, but the company doesn’t want to stop here. Hanson Robotics’ vision is to establish a symbiotic relationship between humans and robots and to solve the most challenging problems of humanity together.
Founded in 2009, Insight Robotics has raised $13 million to develop risk mitigation and management tools for the forestry sector. The company offers two types of services: early wildfire detection and aerial surveying. Wildfires are increasingly common, and 2017 was the worst year in the history of the U.S. with damages exceeding $10 billion. Insight’s detection system uses thermal imaging sensors and an AI algorithm to identify early stage fires as small as two square meters in diameter (the size of a single tree).
Sensors are connected to a control center for efficient early response and operate 24/7 using wind and solar energy. The aerial survey service uses drones to help Insight’s clients (national parks, oil palm plantations, and commercial forestry companies) manage their estates, optimize yield, and conserve and monitor protected areas.
Hong Kong startup Trend Lab has received $12.8 million in an angel funding round that closed this January with the goal of leading the trillion-dollar Asia Pacific AI internet finance market. Founder Tin Mok has put together an experienced team that’s currently operating in stealth mode and has become a strategic partner of EFT Solutions, an electronic transfer point-of-sale (POS) provider listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (80622.HK). That’s about all we know.
Founded in 2016, Banuba has raised $5 million in funding to develop machine vision capabilities for mobile platforms. The team of 150 is located in Hong Kong and Belarus and offers its facial recognition, augmented reality, and other machine vision tools in the form of a software developers’ toolkit (SDK) that can easily be implemented into other applications. Banuba’s FaceAR technology models face directly in 3D instead of establishing a 2D mapping of a face and building a 3D model from that, making the algorithm more accurate than standard facial recognition methods. Features include face tracking with partial visibility, hair segmentation, and even heart rate detection. You can even use it to deceive prospective dates online:
The high precision tool is used in biometric applications, behavioral analytics, and personalized ads, and is also the basis of a Banuba-branded face changing novelty app found in the App Store and Google Play – in case you have nothing better to do with your time.
Update 11/29/2018: Banuba has raised $7 million in funding from Larnabel Ventures to supercharge any app or device with the ability to make you appear much better than you actually do in person. This brings the company’s total funding to $12 million to date.
Founded in 2016, Find Solution Ai has raised $4.2 million to develop big data analytics for the education, healthcare, and e-commerce sectors. The company’s AI algorithms detect emotional states using facial expressions, questionnaires, and quizzes. These results help motivate students, diagnose learning disabilities like ADHD and autism, forecast health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and increase customer engagement in e-commerce transactions.
Their application called ‘4 Little Trees’ is helping schools implement an active, personalized study model instead of the traditional one-sided passive teaching methods. Based on students’ results and emotions, it can point out difficult areas, personalize tests for each student, and share and predict performance for teachers and parents. The platform is currently being used by 15 Hong Kong government schools out of 1,100, so lots of potential growth. Existing contracts are valued at a $2.1 million run rate so you do the math.
Founded in 2016, Pulse iD has raised $3.8 million in funding to build a platform for geolocation-based customer engagement. The tool comes in the form of a software developers’ toolkit (SDK) and can be added as a feature to other apps seamlessly.
When consumers opt in for the feature, it tracks their geolocation and allows retail and service companies to engage with them based on real-time location (like pushing relevant discount notifications to their phone.) Other use cases include fraud protection and regulatory compliance without the need for direct interaction (like checking suspicious credit card transactions instantly.) Pulse iD works with large regional and global telco, financial, and retail companies including Visa and McDonald’s.
Founded in 2016, August Robotics has raised $3.7 million in a seed funding round to build a suite of collaborative robots to work alongside humans. Their first prototype is a robot that will assist exhibition companies in setting up trade shows and will be available by the end of this year. Additional models for the travel and leisure, mining, and energy sectors are being researched right now and there are potentially limitless applications that could be addressed.
Founded in 2011, Social Power has raised $1.4 million in funding to develop a big data analytics tool for social media listening. Founded by digital marketing strategists, the platform monitors all major social media outlets in the Asia Pacific region like Facebook, Twitter, or Weibo, and provides reports on clients’ campaigns, industry position, social media health, and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) using proprietary algorithms.
KOL analytics are a major selling point for Social Power’s clients which include Fortune 500 companies that operate in the Asia Pacific region.
Founded in 2017, BUNCH has raised $200,000 in funding to establish an outsourcing house for high-growth tech companies. BUNCH can take on non-core tasks for clients in the fields of blockchain, software-as-a-service, e-commerce, app development and of course artificial intelligence. Clients pay a monthly fee for “experts” who can provide artificial intelligence expertise in areas such as machine learning training, image annotation, and sentiment analysis, with the price of a full-time specialist ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 a month. You get what you pay for, so we’re not overly convinced that this is useful for anything but implementing commodity AI functions – like product recommendation engines.
Hong Kong’s top AI startups are present in 8 sectors and have jointly received $87.6 million in funding – rather small compared to other markets such as India, or Germany. Compared to its population or territory, these numbers look much better. Growing interest from the mainland along with the government’s Smart City plans bode well for this sector in the coming years.